January 18, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) - Some 850 clergy and other religious workers have endorsed a declaration on morality that calls upon all faiths to bless same-sex couples and allow gay and lesbian ministers.

Though homosexuality is currently the most hotly disputed issue in American religion, the declaration issued Tuesday also advocates open access to abortion and sex education at all age levels. It opposes "unsustainable population growth," the "commercial exploitation of sexuality" and all forms of "sexual oppression."

The one-page statement was sponsored by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, a group advocating sex education. It was released at a news conference featuring John Buehrens and John Thomas, presidents respectively of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

Officials and clergy from those two denominations, and from the Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, made up nearly half the initial signers of the statement. These groups recently have moved toward liberal sexual policies.

The paper got slim backing among Catholics--two nuns, no priests and a handful of lay activists--and none from major Evangelical, black Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim organizations.

SIECUS President Debra Haffner said the paper was developed because "the religious right has staked the public claim to the dialogue on sexuality and religion. There was a huge outpouring of interest in doing something to articulate a different vision."

While the list of signers contained few surprises, the endorsements are significant for three Protestant denominations:

  • Episcopal Church: A July church convention will vote on authorizing same-sex rituals. Declaration endorsers included the Episcopalians' retired national leader, Edmond Browning; eight bishops; and the president and 11 professors at the seminary in Cambridge, Mass.

  • United Methodist Church: A showdown over homosexuality is expected at its May legislative conference. Only one top official, Bishop Roy Sano of Pasadena, Calif., signed; he was joined by 13 professors at the church's seminaries in Claremont, Calif.; Dallas; Denver; Evanston, Ill.; and Washington, D.C.
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Its legislative assembly and highest court both face gay and lesbian decisions this year. The signers included seven professors at Presbyterian seminaries, but no denominational officials.
  • There were also endorsements from theologians in the American Baptist Churches and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; six Protestant seminary presidents; the top two officials of the Reform branch's rabbinical conference; a Conservative rabbi, Elliot Dorff of Jewish Theological Seminary, and a variety of other theologians.

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